The Paris metro is hot, crowded, stinks, is full of people who jump the barriers (these being the same people who bundle up their tat in blankets at the first sight of the police and scarper like a suddenly appeared flock of sheep), and it runs precisely to time. Ever a country bumpkin – or more accurately, an entire family of country bumpkins – we tired of Littlest’s excitement at riding the Paris ‘tube’, as quickly as the French mozzies, who on entering our holiday abode, smell blood – and that’s quick!
When not underground, walking was the preferred alternative – a cruise on the Seine being the equivalent of a dinner out for a family of 5 (something we plan to do later in the week). So saving our pennies, we paced the Paris pavements, fast, where we skirted the tourist routes, and at the pace of the slowest, fattest, most camera, handbag and map laden visitor in front of us, when approaching the major sites. But this scenario is the same in every city ...
Problems of visiting a major tourist city en famille – don’t do it when Littlest’s legs are still too short to keep up - do do it, however, when she is still light enough to carry; don’t imagine for a moment that you can do things like ascend to the top of the Eiffel tower without booking – you can’t, and unless you are prepared for a 2+ hour queue, which we weren’t, you won’t be going up; don’t assume that simply by wandering you will find that idyllic French, family cafe of your dreams, where you will sit and watch the word go by, while supping fine wine and enjoying fine crepe – again, you won’t, but actually, we did find a perfectly good restaurant by the river, with fantastic omelette and brilliant ice cream , and even better, a good gluten-free choice, so ignoring the cigarette smoke, which had Littlest clutching her nose and pulling faces, it was fine; don’t try to run the visit with either military pace or precision, or if you do, don’t expect the kids to keep up; don’t expect to find a bus when you need one; and don’t expect the youngest in your party to stop asking “Are we nearly there yet? ... or ... How much longer? ... or ... Why has that man just wee’d on the pavement? ... or ... When can I have a drink? ... or ... But I really need a carry.”
Do expect her, though, to whisper inside the cathedral and share your awe when looking up inside the dome; to know Paris from films like The Aristocats, Ratatouille, and A Mouse Tale; to marvel at the human statues clothed in white or gold masonry-effect robes; to know that the man playing violin on the steps at Mont Marte is grade 5 on a good day and this wasn’t a good day; and to find cats in gardens more interesting than the views – and you won’t be disappointed.
There were lots of good points in our jour de Paris - points to remember; family memories; special moments – like the guard at Mont Marte who let middle daughter in, but turned away an older woman wearing similarly short shorts, who was barely a couple of tourists behind her; the gardeners tending the roses along the steep sides of the funicular; the window-cleaner sliding, virtually upside-down, down the escalator at Gare d’Est cleaning its glass sides; and Eldest guessing correctly that a statue which I thought looked surprisingly like Sauron, flanked by two orcs, was actually Charlemagne: that would be the same Charlemagne, self-styled Holy Emperor of most of Europe, who cherry-picked all the bits from the bible that suited his ideals concerning absolute power ... holy power ... and rewrote the bits that weren’t quite to his liking. Hmm ... Sauron and Charlemagne – maybe we were both right in a way, maybe Tolkien had the absolutist rulers of the past in mind when creating his own evil characters.
The best bit for Littlest was a centuries' old, simple entertainment, provided by a man with a bag of bread and the hundreds of sparrows in the hedges, in front of Notre Dame.
Other best bits? – the shedding of shoes; the coffee and the swim when we got back. And the long text message from Long-legged-boy – amazing what a prompt from his much text-chattier girlfriend can do. He’s fine. Four-legged-friend is fine. And is getting a walk every day – he’ll be very happy! It’s funny how you miss them a little less when you know all is well ...